As the nation’s largest employer, the United States federal government can be a great option for students and recent graduates to consider. There is a need for every major, every skill set, and every interest area! In addition to competitive pay, federal employees receive one of the best benefit packages in the country, including paid time off, retirement benefits, and health insurance.
Though the federal hiring system is notoriously complicated, learning how to navigate this system can put you at a huge advantage when applying for jobs and internships. In fact, the federal government often goes out of its way to recruit students and recent graduates! SuccessWorks can help you figure out which areas of federal work you should consider, put together strong application materials to show that you’re a competitive candidate, and help you work through all the intricacies of the federal process.
It is worth noting that, because of the nature of the work and security clearances required, the federal government is an extremely challenging career path for international students. The vast majority of federal jobs and internships require U.S. citizenship or nationality, and non-citizens can often only be hired in situations where no qualified citizen is available.
Excepted vs. Competetive Service
There is a lot of terminology to learn when considering federal jobs, but the first important distinction to make is excepted vs. competitive service. Though there aren’t always differences between what someone does in a competitive service role as opposed to an excepted service role, there are major differences in the hiring process.
Essentially, competitive service is the traditional hiring path for federal civil service roles. You can learn more about this process below in the Civil Service section, but the significance of excepted roles is that they do not follow this standard process. As a candidate, this means that you use different application materials for excepted service roles than you do for competitive service, and the selection process after you apply can be quite different.
The most popular excepted service positions among students are in intelligence and diplomacy, though there are a few other federal agencies (like USPS and FEMA) that fall into this category as well. You can usually tell whether an agency you’re interested in hires under the competitive or excepted process by where their opportunities are posted (competitive service roles are posted on USAJobs.gov, while excepted service roles are posted on individual agency websites), but you can also take a look at this Wikipedia page to be sure.
The civil service is probably what comes to mind when you think of working in the federal government. Even so, there is likely a lot more variety, interest, and opportunity within the civil service than what you would ever imagine. The federal government influences almost every area of modern life and, if you choose to work as part of that system, you have the opportunity to serve communities and improve lives on a local, regional, or national scale.
Not only does the civil service encompass big-name agencies like the Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency, but also more focused agencies like the Library of Congress and the National Endowment for the Humanities, many of which you probably don’t know exist. If you aren’t sure whether or not there’s a role within the civil service that interests you, take a look! You’ll likely find more than you expect.
- Civil Service Internships
- Search Resources
- Civil Service Application Resources
- Candidates with Disabilities
The civil service has many opportunities for students through the Pathways program. These full-time, salaried internships are available in many different agencies with a variety of different focuses, and are fantastic ways to gain experience and network within the federal system.
When applying for an internship with the federal government, it’s important that you use the correct application materials. For federal internships, a standard resume is not sufficient. Because the government wants to clearly see all of the knowledge, skills, and abilities you could bring to the role, you’ll want to apply with an Excepted Service Resume (usually 2-3 pages long) or a Federal Style Resume (usually 3-5 pages long) if you prefer.
The Federal Government is actively recruiting and hiring candidates with disabilities. Candidates with disabilities can be appointed to Federal jobs non-competitively through a process called Schedule A. Most Federal agencies also have someone called a Selective Placement Program Coordinator (SPPC), Special Emphasis Manager for employment of adults with disabilities (SEM), or their equivalent. Their job is to assist agency management with recruiting, hiring and accommodating individuals with disabilities at that agency. The U.S. Equal Employment Commission has several resources to help you navigate the application and hiring process, outlined in The ABCs of Schedule A.
One of the most popular excepted service career paths that students pursue, apart from Diplomatic Careers, is intelligence. These jobs are quite different in reality from what you see on TV, but working in intelligence can be an extremely rewarding, dynamic, and challenging field. It’s also important to understand what you’re getting into when you consider these roles because, as you would expect, the hiring process is intensive, long, and not very transparent.
It can be a bit intimidating to think about pursuing a career in intelligence, so if you aren’t sure whether or not it’s right for you, one of the best resources at your disposal is IntelligenceCareers.gov. In addition to job and internship postings, this site has a ton of information about the intelligence hiring process and what it’s actually like to work in the field.
- Intelligence Internships
- Intelligence Search Resources
- Hiring Timeline
- Excepted Service Application Resources
For students who define intelligence as an area of interest early-on in their time at UW-Madison, there are a ton of great internship opportunities available! However, it’s important to start thinking about these in advance, as it often takes eight months to a year from when you apply to be able to start the internship. This is why many applications are only open to first- and second-year students, though there are limited opportunities for upperclassmen as well.
- Agency Websites
As you could probably guess, intelligence jobs require an extensive security clearance and background check as part of the application. This means that, for most agencies, it takes a full year or more from the time you apply to be able to start in the role.
The military has a wide variety of career options whether you choose to enter as an officer (which requires a bachelor’s degree or higher) or enlisted. Serving in the armed forces can be a gateway to another government career (FBI, secret service, communications specialist, IT, or scientist), A career in the private sector, returning to college to earn an advanced degree on the GI Bill, Or a full career in military service.
The military including career paths, pay, and day-to-day life – either as an officer or enlisted – you can visit Today’s Military.
The Federal Government has a long and outstanding record of employing veterans. Veterans have technical skills in areas of critical importance, and many also already have security clearances required for some Federal positions. Honorably discharged vets (upon presentation of their DD214 and any other requested documentation) receive an automatic 5 or 10 point preference in Federal hiring for life. There are also special hiring incentives given to those with 30% or more service connected disabilities.For veterans looking to transition into the private sector, resources like GI Jobs and TAOnline can help you translate your service into transferable skills and experience, and navigate the transition into civilian employment.